First day in India

So we made it safely (albeit exhausted) yesterday into Delhi. In spite of our lack of sleep, the ride from the airport captivated us with a combination of sights, sounds, and smells. We immediately noticed how dense the air is with smoke from the burning of any and every kind of imaginable fuel. We both were surprised that we neither hit anyone on a bike nor were run down by some of the larger busses that always seemed to be centimeters from the car, merging, flowing, and pulsing with the rhythm of the city streets. Honking is a way of communicating here, and traffic seems to follow a natural flow instead of adhering to Western conventions such as lanes, right of way, or even in many cases which side of the road is appropriate to drive on. It’s more like watching leaves float down a river; it never stops and it just works, even though it seems like it shouldn’t. Along the way we saw beautiful women in colorful saris, beggars by the side of the road and people living in makeshift tents going through the daily routines of cooking, showering, cleaning, and sleeping. Buildings of every kind line the streets; beautiful modern homes adjacent to dilapidated ruins and everything in between, all mixed together and in your face. The sheer volume of people here is incredible. Everyone seems to be doing their own thing, whether it’s selling something (people selling all manner of goods would approach stopped traffic to offer coconuts, books, and other various and sundry things), driving their bikes and rickshaws, or just sitting by the side of the street. Needless to say, we were glued to the windows until we made it to the hotel.

From the chaos of the Delhi rush hour, we were delivered to our hotel doors, complete with an armed security check of the vehicle. After passing through what appeared to be a makeshift metal detector, we were greeted by immaculately polished marble floors leading down a long colonnaded hallway to the lobby. The chaos of the city fell away to be replaced with distant quiet music and gently perfumed air, as well as a cool breeze from inside. After our guide checked us in and set up a meeting with our tour coordinatrix, we were escorted upstairs to our
room: an upgraded suite! With a spacious living room, live flowers throughout, 15 foot ceilings, and perfect marble floors we were delighted.

We rested for a few hours before meeting with Pooja, our coordinator. She gave us a package with our itinerary and vouchers for hotels, trains, and flights, and then introduced us to our guide while in Delhi. He is with us for our entire time in the city, and we also have a driver who is available to us all day and into the evening if required. We hopped in the car and were taken to the Red Fort, a world heritage site built by the Mogul Empire in the 17th century. Although the heat was incredible and we were both sweating buckets, we enjoyed the exquisite craftsmanship of the buildings including red sandstone structures, marble buildings, and intricate carvings in the stone and marble with semiprecious stones inlaid.

Next we hopped on the back of a bicycle-powered rickshaw and were driven through the narrow streets of the Chandi Chowk Bazaar. This was perhaps the most sensory-stimulating experience of the day. The impossibly narrow streets are lined with literal holes in the wall which sell everything; electronics, food, clothing (some BEAUTIFUL saris!), eyeglasses and “computerized sight tests” (which was written above a picture of an autorefractor), hand crafts, shoes, and many other goods. We saw people doing stone carving and working saws and lathes crumpled up and hunched over in small passages, all without eye protection. All this from the back of the rickshaw while our 50 year old driver pedaled on in the 40 degree heat with cars and motorcycles whizzing past us. He was seemingly performing thousands of calculations each second to keep track of the dimensions and speed of our cart in order to maintain less than a centimeter from cars, people, and buildings while never actually hitting anything.

Finally, we went through the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in Asia and can hold up to 25,000 worshipers. Also built by the Moguls, its stunning architecture was quite impressive. We found one of the more elaborate features to be the black marble, inset into white marble, used for words from the holy text of the Koran which was inlaid into large white marble panels displayed around the square. We then headed back to our hotel around 17:00 (local time) for some much need rest and to clean up before dinner. We had dinner in one of the restaurants in our hotel, and it was all we could do to stay awake through dinner. We went back to our room right after finishing dinner, washed up and were dead asleep within minutes. We had a wonderful sleep and rose around 05:00 feeling much more refreshed and rested than we have in days. We took breakfast outside on the terrace this morning as it was still early (07:00) and it was not too hot yet. The breakfast at the hotel is a wonderful buffet that covers both Western and Indian sensibilities, and we thoroughly enjoyed everything from the wonderful fresh fruit, omelets, pastries and Indian fare (the Mango Lassi was delicious).

We are just getting ready to meet our driver and guide for day 2 of sightseeing. We will be visiting a couple of museums today (the Ghandi Museum as well as the Modern Art Museum), the Lodi Gardens and a few other temples and historical sights. Later today we will venture out on our own to Connaught Place and just do some poking around on our own. It’s wonderful to have a driver and guide, but we want to have some time by ourselves to just look around also. This evening we plan to dine at the Oberoi Hotel, which is supposed to have the best restaurant in Delhi, so we are both looking forward to enjoying a lovely meal there. So far everything we have eaten has been just delicious, and we may be some of the few who actually gain weight travelling in India (as long as our digestive systems hold out).

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